Summary: God loves us as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way.
When you hear the phrase, "God loves you," what kind of picture does it conjure up in your mind? Specifically, what image of God do you envision when you hear someone say that God loves you? Perhaps you think of a kindly old grandfather, smiling down on you benevolently from heaven. Someone who’s proud of you and wants you to do well. Someone pleasant, someone affirming and encouraging. Or perhaps you see a slightly different image: Christ the good shepherd, watching over you as one of his sheep, or holding you gently in his arms. Tender and compassionate. Or perhaps your idea of God resembles the father in the parable of the prodigal son - Arms open wide, running to greet you, overjoyed to see you, welcoming you into his presence. Someone who absolutely delights in you, who enjoys nothing more than spending time with you, his beloved son, or daughter.
All of these contain an element of truth. God’s love is affirming, and encouraging, and compassionate, and welcoming. God does delight in us as his beloved children. He does watch over us and care for us. He does accept us unconditionally, as (hopefully) our own grandparents do. But pictures like these don’t tell the whole story. There’s another aspect of God’s love that we don’t tend to think about. And the problem is that, if our entire understanding of the love of God is expressed in pictures like these, then when God acts toward us in ways that don’t match these images, we get confused. We don’t know what’s happening, because whatever God is doing, it certainly doesn’t look or feel like love. So we wonder if God has abandoned us, if God is angry with us, if God is punishing us. We start hearing a little voice in our head, saying, "God doesn’t love you. He never loved you. If God loved you, He wouldn’t treat you like this." We think God has stopped loving us, and we panic. What happened? What went wrong? In reality, nothing is wrong. It’s just that we don’t recognize this kind of love.
What am I talking about? Discipline. Discipline from the Lord can be painful, confusing, humiliating, stressful; it can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting; it’s almost always unwelcome - no one says, "Hooray! It’s time for discipline!" It feels like anything but love. And yet, that’s exactly what it is. Listen:
"Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal." - Job 5:17-18
"Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law" - Psalm 94:12
"My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." -- Proverbs 3:11-12
In other words, when God disciplines us, it’s not a curse. It’s not a punishment. It’s a blessing. Not the kind of blessing we would have chosen, perhaps, but a blessing nonetheless. It’s the kind of blessing that God in His wisdom has determined we need the most at that particular time.
One illustration that comes to mind is that of a football coach. We happen to have a football coach in the congregation, D___ . Now, I’ve talked to D___ , and I know that during practice, he makes those poor boys do many unpleasant things. Run lap after lap wearing forty pounds of football gear. Drive their shoulders into the 2-man blocking sled and push it all over the field - with him riding on it! Hit the tackling dummy over and over. Be the tackling dummy, and get tackled, over and over. Agility drills. Endurance drills. It’s physically punishing; it’s exhausting. And why does D___ do this? Because he’s a sadist, and likes to see these boys suffer? Of course not. This is constructive discipline. By putting them through all kinds of drills, they are prepared for the test to come on Friday night. They are prepared to play the game of football. The discipline, although painful, and unwelcome in itself, is a blessing because of its purpose: winning football games. The goal of the discipline is victory and glory on the gridiron. (That’s the idea, anyway) By enforcing physical discipline, D___ is trying to help his team enjoy the fruits of victory. Does God likewise have a purpose in disciplining us? Yes! Listen:
"When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." - 1 Corinthians 11:32
"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." - Revelation 3:19
God’s discipline has a saving purpose. God disciplines us to restrain us from sin; to correct us and bring us to repentance when we do sin; to keep us from ultimately falling away from the faith. You say, "I thought a Christian couldn’t lose their salvation." And that’s true. When God calls us to Himself, He promises never to let us fall away. And discipline is one of the means He uses to fulfill that promise.